I-Team: Five myths about drunk driving tests debunked

Breath mints, refusing test likely won't help

In 2011, 9,878 people were killed in drunk driving crashes nationwide, according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Two-thirds of drunk drivers are first time offenders. MADD believes the best way to reduce that number is an increased focus by law enforcement on arresting drunk drivers.

But there are always some people out there who think they can "beat" a field sobriety test, even if they are driving drunk. Here are some of the most common misconceptions about sobriety tests.

#1 Breath mints or mouthwash can help beat the breath test

Breathalyzers, despite their name, aren't fooled by fresh breath. They measure the amount of alcohol in one's breath, and breath mints or mouthwash wouldn't affect that.  In fact, officers can often take the smell of breath mints or mouthwash as an indication a driver is trying to hide their breath.

#2 Coffee or a cold shower can sober up an intoxicated person

According to the Tampa Police Department's DUI Unit website, "Time is the only way a person can get sober. Eliminating alcohol from the body is an extremely slow metabolic process that requires many hours to complete."  Coffee or a cold shower can wake a person up, but it won't help on a sobriety test.

I-Team investigator Michael George exposes a loophole in local government agencies that could allow police officers, firefighters, and even school employees to get away with being under the influence at work.


#3 Sucking on a penny can fool or negate a breathalyzer test

This urban legend is based on the idea that the copper in a penny will confuse or invalidate a breathalyzer test, and has no basis, in fact.  Pennies aren't even made primarily of copper anymore, they're made of mostly zinc.

#4 A suspected drunk driver could be asked to say the alphabet backwards

The alphabet test is common in field sobriety tests, but the suspect isn't asked to say the alphabet backwards. Typically, they are asked to say the alphabet forwards, without singing. They may also be asked to recite the alphabet with their eyes closed, with officers checking to see if they sway, open their eyes, or need to use their arms for balance.

What else can drunk drivers expect during a field sobriety test?

It varies, but drivers are often asked to follow an object with their eyes, walk in a straight line, turn, and walk back, stand on one leg, connect their finger to their nose with their eyes closed, or count backwards from 100 to 75.

#5 Refusing to take a breath-alcohol test means police can't arrest you

The Tampa Police Department says, "While it's true that a breath sample provides the police with valuable evidence, a refusal is also very powerful evidence.  In some ways, a refusal could be more compelling evidence than a breath-alcohol test result." 

Earlier this month, high-profile attorney Phil Campbell was arrested for a DUI after refusing to take the walking test, breath test, or the alphabet test.  In the dashboard camera video, the officer informed Campbell that if he refused the test, the officer would judge his impairment based on what he had seen so far.


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